These days, it can feel like there are few issues on which Democrats and Republicans can agree. In the world of energy, it can feel like there are even fewer. And yet, carbon capture boasts a unique legacy of bipartisan support. The Obama, Trump, and Biden Administrations all identified carbon capture as a useful and necessary means of helping the United States reduce its CO2 emissions without sacrificing our economy.
Over a decade ago, during President Obama’s first term in office, a newly created interagency task force published a report that concluded carbon capture has an important role to play in reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This complemented $4.8 billion invested through the 2009 Clean Coal Power Initiative in the deployment of advanced coal technologies with carbon capture and storage (CCS) at commercial scale, with the goal of addressing the carbon intensity of our industrial and power sectors.
During his second term, carbon capture technologies were specifically identified as a means for power plants to comply with the goals of the 2015 Clean Power Plan, which sought to reduce CO2 emissions by 32 percent by 2030. And the Obama-era Department of Energy (DOE), likewise, allocated portions of its budget to fund new R&D and testing for expanding the deployment of carbon capture technologies.
President Trump’s DOE built on these investments, with an emphasis on enhancing our energy security through technological innovation and diversification. From Secretary Rick Perry asking the National Petroleum Council to study how oil drillers could leverage CCUS technologies in 2017 to hundreds of millions set aside in 2020 to fund CCUS R&D focused on addressing industrial sector emissions and finding new markets for CO2, the Trump Administration continued prioritizing carbon capture as a critical piece of our energy landscape.
As Secretary Dan Brouillette said in a 2020 op-ed in The Denver Post:
“Making our most reliable energy sources cleaner will play a key role in the future of our energy economy both here at home and around the world. In addition, carbon capture will make the industries that produce oil, gas, and coal more competitive and attractive for investment because it will help ensure they remain a pillar of domestic power production.”
Finally, President Trump signed into law the reform and then expansion of 45Q tax credits in 2018 and 2020, respectively, incentivizing the wider deployment and commercial use of carbon capture. In December 2020, the Bipartisan Carbon Capture Law provided a stronger roadmap for carbon capture project developers, including:
- Directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to support CCUS research,
- Clarifying the permitting review process for carbon capture projects and infrastructure, including CO2 pipelines, and
- Directing the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to establish guidelines to expedite the development of carbon capture facilities and infrastructure.
Now, under the Biden Administration, we are seeing the next phase of carbon capture maturation in the United States. In her confirmation hearing last year, Secretary Jennifer Granholm stated that she intended to continue federal economic support for CCUS and that carbon capture was crucial to the United States reaching net-zero emissions.
With the Bipartisan Infrastructure package now law, $2.54 billion has been allocated for the Carbon Capture Demonstration Projects, which will focus on integrated carbon capture, transport, and storage technologies and infrastructure that can be replicated and deployed at power plants and major industrial sources of CO2, such as cement, pulp and paper, iron and steel, and chemical production facilities.
This funding underscores the recent findings of the Energy Transitions Commission, which found carbon capture was particularly critical for addressing hard-to-abate economic sectors.
So, what does all of this tell us? At face value, yes, carbon capture is a unique energy “issue” in that it has garnered investment from both sides of the aisle for going on two decades. But it also tells us something more meaningful than anything political: the United States’ energy landscape has changed dramatically in the last 15 years thanks to technological innovation, the Shale Renaissance, and constantly evolving national security concerns. Throughout all of it, carbon capture has been identified by our energy leaders as a solution – a flexible and vital means of protecting our energy interests and our environmental concerns.
That’s a legacy that we can – and must – continue.
Rebecca Brown served at the Department of Energy during the Trump Administration.